He looked at the clock on the wall. A toilet flushed upstairs. With his eyes, he followed the water flowing through the pipes in the walls. She used to hate this sound. She would say: “We are living in their sewage!” To him, it was relaxing like the sound of waves. However, now the sound of the water only reminded him of the emptiness of the house, with every drop resonating in the hollow rooms squeezed in between the walls.
He looked at her shoes. The pair of shoes she had worn every single day of the last ten years. They were torn at the edges. One of them had a hole on the sole that she had tried to cover with a piece of felt. She loved those shoes. It was part of her daily routine to polish them every evening. The more her shoes shined, the greater the dignity she emanated as she walked.
Being presentable and clean was of utmost importance to her. That is why no one dared to say anything when her vision deteriorated and she could no longer detect the stains on her shoes. Bits of blotches began to accumulate on everything she used to clean. Cleanliness, her signature, began to wear off as the smell of dust and old wooden furniture grew.
The dishes also carried the impact of her weakened eyesight. Bits of grease appeared on the rims of the plates. Whenever he ran his hands on the once smooth china, he would feel the grease forming bumps here and there. Yet, he never uttered a word to her about it. He knew she needed to believe in her abilities as a home maker. As long as no one made a remark about dirt lingering on the kitchen counter, there was peace in the house. As long as she kept the house running, they were reassured that they could carry on.
The fact was that things had not been going quite smoothly but he did not care. The only thing that mattered to him was that they were making it through the day together. One would find what the other had lost. One would remember what the other forgot. One would provide what the other could not.
In the last couple of years, however, what each could do had diminished, and they had learned to live with less. They had been shopping lighter since neither had the strength to carry heavy bags. With their bones losing their mass, high shelf tops were no longer among the parts of the home they visited often. Many photographs and letters placed on top shelves years ago had become parts of their lives rarely remembered, forgotten among papers turned yellow.
The clock rang eleven o’clock. He boiled an egg for lunch and sat to eat it with tomatoes and bread. He did not have much appetite anymore. He did not know much about cooking anyway, with her having taken care of meals ever since they had moved into their first home together.
During lunch, he had a look at the newspaper. He did not read about the country politics anymore. Politics, he deemed, were for those who still had the energy to believe in seeing the outcomes of changes. Nor was he interested in classified ads. They were for people eager to make a fresh start with a new car or a new apartment. He read third page news about lonely old people vandalized in their homes by young drug addicts for silverware in cupboards. He always checked the weather report to decide whether to put on another cardigan and of course he loved crosswords.
Until four o’clock, he did the crosswords. At four, he got up from his sofa, of which the seat had sunk under years of weight, and placed his dinner on the stove. He looked up at the clock on the wall. With each minute the minute move of the handles echoed in the house. The shoes of his late wife were by the door, shining under the dust with the polish she had last applied. The toilet flushed upstairs, and he watched the water flow through the walls.
And he waited…